In this blog post, I will tell you about the life of Grace Hopper, who made significant contributions to programming.
Grace Hopper was born in New York, the USA, in 1906 and had a curious life story. She graduated in mathematics and physics field in 1924 at Vassar College. After that, in 1930, Grace Hopper went to the master’s degree program at Yale University. In the same year, she married Vincent Foster Hopper, a professor at New York University. In 1931, she was still studying at Yale and also teaching at Vassar at the same time.
When the United States entered World War 2 after the Pearl Harbor bomb attack, Grace Hopper decided to join the war labors. But her application was rejected because of her age and weight-hight size. She was way small for that mission. Although her application was declined, she did not let it go and got a resignation to join U.S Naval Reserve. In the end, she joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) in 1934. She got permission from Vassar to attend sixty days of training in Midshipmen’s School for Women at Smith College.
After Hopper got Lieutenant Junior Grade, she was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University. She attended to the team worked on IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator known as MARK I, the first electromechanical computer in the United States. Hopper and the team she was in worked on secret calculations for the warlike computing rocket trajectories, creating range tables for new anti-aircraft guns, and calibrating minesweepers. Hopper, known as one of the first three coders, wrote the user’s manual of MARK I, which was 561 pages. End of the war, she wanted to join the regular Navy, but she was rejected because of her age. Hopper continued to work in the Navy Reserve. And she kept working on MARK II and MARK III computers between 1946 and 1949.
In 1949, Hopper started to work at Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician, and she joined the UNIVAC I developer team. In the early 1950s, the company was taken over by the Remington Rand Corporation. She was working for them when her original compiler work was done. The compiler was known as the A compiler, and its first version was A-0.
“Nobody believed that. I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.” – Grace Hopper.
In 1953, Hopper offered the idea of writing the programs with words instead of symbols. But everyone told her that her idea wouldn’t work. In 1954, she was selected as the company’s first director of automatic programming. And in 1956, her department launched some of the first compiler-based programming languages, including MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC. Hopper’s idea of word-based languages allowed an increase in computer users. Companies began to be able to market computers to people without engineering or math backgrounds.
“What I was after in beginning English language [programming] was to bring another whole group of people able to use the computer easily… I kept calling for more user-friendly languages. Most of the stuff we get from academicians, computer science people, is in no way adapted to people.” – Grace Hopper.
In 1959, Hopper took charge as a technical consultant at the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL) conference describing a new language known as Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL). Hopper designed the COBOL, developed compilers for it, and encouraged its broad adoption. By the 1970s, COBOL became “the most extensively used computer language” globally.
Due to the age limit, Hopper was forced to retire from the navy in 1966. But a few months after he went into labor, he was recalled to help standardize the Navy’s multiple computer languages and programs. In 1979, she retired from the UNIVAC and retired from the Navy as a rear admiral at the age of 79. She was the oldest serving officer in the U.S. armed forces.